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Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Worst Was Yet to Come”

By Michael Penkas

This is a complete work of fiction presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Michael Penkas and New Epoch Press, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 by New Epoch Press.

And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as ye have said.

And Moses said unto the Lord, “Pharaoh has freed the people of Israel. And they rejoice, even as the people of Egypt mourn their dead.”

And the Lord said unto Moses, “Oh. Well. Then gather My people and lead them from this land. Tell them that a new kingdom awaits them.”

But Moses had spoken with the Lord many times and knew by His words that the Lord was not pleased; so he asked, “Lord, what more would you demand of Pharaoh?”

And the Lord said, “Nothing. I… no, My chosen people are free and that is enough.”

But Moses was not convinced and asked again, “Lord, I know that You are not satisfied. What more would you have Pharaoh do?”

And the Lord answered, “It’s… nothing, really. Just… it’s not important.”

But Moses entreatied the Lord a third time. “Lord, Pharaoh mourns the death of his own son and fears Your power as he has never done. His subjects press him to obey Your command. Lord, if You want something more, now would be the time to ask.”

And the Lord replied, “It’s just… I had thought the heart of Pharaoh to be harder. I had thought I would need to visit many more plagues upon him than these ten.”

Moses then said unto the Lord, “Many thought Pharaoh would never free Your people. But the plagues You visited upon him were so terrible that all the people of Egypt threatened to turn against him if he would not obey Your will. I mean, really, the water turning to blood? The days spent in darkness? That scared the hell out of them.”

And the Lord said, “Yes, well, not much imagination to those two. Darkness and blood scare most people. And the others? The locusts? The lice? The frogs? Did it seem like I was getting repetitive with that… just sending different creatures?”

And Moses said, “No, Lord. They were… they were all terrible plagues.”

The Lord answered, “Yes, but they didn’t seem all that original. I mean, really, I thought the frogs would scare the Egyptians a lot more than they did. I was just thinking, you know, frogs. Something unexpected. They were probably getting ready for serpents or scorpions and then… frogs!”

Moses agreed with the Lord, saying, “Yes… I’m certain Pharaoh had no idea what was coming next.”

And the Lord continued, saying, “Frankly, the whole death of the firstborn… I don’t know. I think it may have been a bit much. You know? I mean, people had itching boils and it was dark for a few days and then… boom, I’m killing people.”

Moses said to the Lord, “It was what had to happen. It was a plague so terrible that they could no longer risk angering You.”

And the Lord sighed deeply and said, “I guess. It’s just… well, I had more plagues set up. You know? I had another ten all ready to go.”

“And the Egyptians will be glad to be spared them,” Moses said, now wanting to get on with leading the People of Israel out of their place of bondage. With any luck, he was hoping they’d be settled in the Promised Land by month’s end.

But the Lord continued, saying, “Yeah. I just… I mean, when they talk about this, years from now… do you think people will be impressed? Like… ‘Wow, Jehova really put some thought into that one’. Or is it just going to seem like a list of kind of generic bad things?”

Moses assured the Lord, “I’m sure they will speak of these plagues with great fear, Lord.”

“I’m just worried that, when people tell this story, they’ll think the plagues will sound kind of, I don’t know, boring. I wouldn’t put it past them to make up better ones in the stories.”

“Oh, I’m sure they won’t do that, Lord.”

“I was actually doing it in a certain order, you know? I was doing the easy ones, the simple stuff, first. The next batch of plagues were going to be really creative.”

“I’m sure they would have been.”

“But nobody will ever know. I had all these great plagues set up and… really, now I don’t have any reason to use them. I don’t want to be a jerk here; but I really did put a lot of thought into the next ten plagues.”

And Moses sighed and sat down, asking, “Would you like to tell me what they were, Lord?”

And the Lord said unto Moses, “Oh… no. No. You’ve got enough to do right now.”

But Moses said, a bit listlessly, “No no, I don’t mind. If Pharaoh had not freed Your people this day, what plague would You next have visited upon him?”

And the Lord, needing no further prompting, said, “Well, for the eleventh plague, I was going to curse the Egyptians so that they would shit scorpions. I mean, every time they would try to relieve themselves, their bowels would erupt with venomous scorpions.”

And Moses nodded, saying only, “Surely, they would be in agony.”

“Damn right! Look back on those locusts and boils as the good old days!”

And Moses shifted his weight upon the stones beneath him, trying to make himself comfortable, for he could tell that God was just getting warmed up.

And the Lord, sounding a little giddy, said unto Moses, “For the twelfth plague, I’d send rats.”

And Moses nodded, saying, “Yes, to grow fat on the grain of the Egyptians, to spread disease and gnaw at the foundations of Pharaoh’s kingdom.”

But the Lord corrected Moses, saying, “Oh, not just regular rats. Winged rats. Here, I’ve got some concept drawings.” And the Lord produced his concept sketches of a winged and feathered rat which looked as a fat, filthy dove to Moses. “I haven’t thought of a name for them yet; but know that they would infest the cities of Egypt, befouling every surface and growing fat on the garbage of the Egyptians.

“And then, after a week of that, the thirteenth plague… this would have been great. All the cats in Egypt would grow thumbs.”

And there was a silence as Moses tried to envision such an act coming to pass. And he said unto the Lord, “I don’t get it, Lord. Why is that bad?”

“Because cats hate you. They hate everyone, even each other. The only thing that prevents them from picking up daggers and stabbing you in your sleep is that they don’t have opposable thumbs. So there’d be all these animals that the Egyptians worship suddenly picking up weapons and going crazy. And they’d have to kill their cats just to survive.”

And Moses nodded, seeing no point in questioning the Lord’s reasons, for they were mysterious… and kind of crazy.

“And then I’d probably just pull back a little, tone it down with something more subtle, like everyone suddenly speaking in strange tongues.”

Moses took some hope in this more reasonable plague and said, “Indeed, as when you struck the wicked of Babel, so that each spoke in a different tongue, it would cripple the nation.”

But the Lord again corrected Moses, saying, “Oh, they’d all speak the same language; but it would be a mess. I was thinking that everyone would just talk in bad poetry for a week.”

And Moses just stared at the Lord, as one struck dumb.

And the Lord said, “Believe in me and know that, after a week, it would be awful.”

And Moses began to think on all the packing that the People of Israel would have to do before they could leave the land of their oppressors. It would probably be a good idea if they packed light and left quickly, before Pharaoh changed his decision. If for no other reason than Moses did not want to see these new terrible plagues revealed. So far, he’d been able to keep God’s chosen people together mostly because none of them had spoken to God.

“Then, for the fifteenth plague, I would set great lizards upon the land of Egypt, such as walked the earth in ancient times. Frankly, I’ve been looking for a good reason to bring back the dinosaurs.”

And Moses asked, “Would these be kin to the crocodiles that haunt the Nile?”

And God only laughed in reply. And Moses always hated when the Lord kept His little secrets; but stayed silent.

Saying no more about the fifteenth plague, the Lord then pronounced, “And I was thinking, really to surprise the Egyptians, instead of starving them out with a famine or a drought, I’d instead make all of them morbidly obese for four or five days. Each Egyptian, from the youngest to the oldest, would not be able to move for their grotesque girth.”

And Moses began thinking of all his possessions, trying to figure out what he could afford to leave behind and how much time he would have to pack. Perhaps Aaron would start packing for him.

“So, the seventeenth plague would be… sort of symbolic. I would curse every Egyptian so that excrement would issue from his mouth for every word he spoke. Imagine no one being able to speak to Pharaoh without spraying him with shit? Let’s see those Egyptian gods think of something better.”

And Moses assured the Lord that the false gods of Egypt would not be able to compete with his creative cruelties.

And the Lord said, “Damn right they wouldn’t. As for the eighteenth plague… werewolves.”

And Moses nodded, only half-listening at this point.

“Now, for nineteen… I’m really proud of this one… the womb of every Egyptian woman would grow fangs. Lots of them. No one would even figure it out until the first time a man –”

“I can envision it, Lord,” Moses said, crossing his legs and hoping that the Lord would let him leave when He was finished reciting these uncast plagues. And he thought about how much he had hated the Egyptians, how often he had wished death upon them, and knew that he would never wish such horrors as the Lord was both willing and frighteningly eager to deliver.

And Moses began to feel a great fear as he realized he would be leading his people through a desert with no one but this psychopath to guide them to safety.

The Lord chuckled for a short time before continuing. “Now… twenty would really be the end. The one that couldn’t be topped. So it would have to be a big one.”

Moses nodded. He did not want to hear the Lord’s final plague, just wanted to get the hell out of Egypt and put this whole ordeal behind him.

“I would raise the dead of the Egyptians, from the lowliest beggar to the former Pharaohs whom they believe to be gods. The dead would open their tombs, dig themselves from their earthen resting places, and attack the living people of Egypt, devouring their flesh while they still lived and adding them to their ranks. What do you think?”

Moses nodded, but had to ask, “You would raise the dead so that they lived again?”

And the Lord corrected him a third time. “No. They wouldn’t be alive. They would still be dead, just moving around. It’s… it’s kind of hard to explain and I’d need to think of a new word to describe them, but… well.” And the Lord sighed deeply before saying, “It would have been great.”

Wishing to leave and hoping there was nothing more to hear, Moses said, “I think those were very creative, Lord.”

“Yeah. Maybe I can use them some other time, against future enemies of the Israelites.”

And Moses said unto the Lord, “With the ten plagues you have already visited upon our enemies, surely no one would ever again dare to trouble the Jews.”

And then the Lord said the scariest thing that Moses had ever heard Him say. After a soft chuckle, the Creator of All Things said, “Riiiight.”


Mike Penkas considering which books to stealMichael Penkas has been the website editor for Black Gate since August of 2012. He’s had over a dozen stories published since 2007. While he tends to stay near to those things that go bump in the night, he’s occasionally delved into mystery, science fiction, and the odd humor piece. Long-time readers of Black Gate will know that he has more than a few opinions concerning a certain crazy redhead with a sword.

He maintains a blog at michaelpenkas.blogspot.com and most of his published work can be found on his Amazon page.

His acclaimed first collection, Dead Boys, was released this month.

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