The sun cast its last, blood red, sorrowful rays upon the fading image of the desert, the wide expanse of dry, barren sand stretching endlessly in all directions. Those of God’s people who were cautious and wise were in their tents, hiding from the brutal cold and the dark uncertainty of night. The final jet of glittering crimson light highlighted the silhouette of a man, walking towards tall stalks and large bushes, a jug clutched in his left hand.
His name was Cain. He was young, neither handsome nor ugly, appearing as bland as the sand covering the ground around him. He stepped away from the desert, onward towards the bushy shapes in the distance, until he arrived at his destination. There, barely recognizable in the dark blue night, a small plot of land where white sand should have lain was painted with dark, fertile soil. Huge green stalks of grain, squat olive trees, and rows upon rows of green shrubs erupted from the spot. It was a place unique in all the land; for miles and miles around the small patch one could not find a place so lush as this.
Cain breathed deeply as he entered the garden. The soft scent of azalea buds danced into his nostrils, accompanied by the green, earthy smell of tomato vines and the heavy scent of sweetest grapes. He bent low over a row of small sprouts, surrounded by the ethereal glow of the rising moon glinting off their leaves.
“There, there,” he muttered, gently stroking dirt off of one of the plant’s leaves. He sat there in silence for a moment, his grubby hand still resting delicately on the pocket of green.
“Oi,” A loud, sharp voice attacked the peaceful silence. “Cain. Get back inside,” Another man, stronger and more handsome than Cain, strode into the garden, his foot carelessly trampling a fat purple grape.
“Abel, please be careful,” Cain sighed, shooing his brother away. Yes, they were brothers, but it was impossible to tell. Abel’s features were chiseled; they protruded from his face as if carved from a block of solid marble. His muscled arms and legs burst from the short robes covering his body, the sinewy limbs stretching for miles before ending in flat hands and feet. His angelic face crumpled into a sour frown, his eyes narrowing to slits.
“Excuse me,” he said, his voice still quiet, but edged with lethal poison. “I was not aware that god himself ordained you my keeper. I shall do what I please. And you, Cain,” he spat his brother’s name out like a bitter cherry. “You will go back inside. It’s getting cold.” Cain sighed again. He’d always hated the superior way that Abel addressed him—after all, he, Abel, was the younger sibling by three years. But Cain’s lack of physical prowess, his prodigious social awkwardness, and the dreadful fear that set upon him when he spoke out loud had always rendered him the weaker one in everyone’s eyes.
“Cain,” Abel cried. “We have a meeting with the Lord tomorrow. Will you not hurry? You must have a gift to offer Him, to placate His might,” Cain emerged from the garden; on his arm a wide basket, spilling over with herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Abel made a face.
“You think the Lord will be pleased with this—this–” he plucked a succulent green olive from its bed of leafy kale. “This thing?” Cain merely nodded.
“And what will you bring to Him, tomorrow?” he asked meekly as the two men came upon a large, bloody lump a few meters from the path.
“This,” Abel said, indicating the dead lamb with a sweep of his massive hand. His arm hung awkwardly in the air for a moment where it trembled so faintly that the motion was almost unperceivable, and then it fell like a dead weight, jerking his body forward with the force of the movement.
As Cain looked at the blood-covered lamb, he was enveloped in memory. He remembered running in to see his father one evening.
“Father, Father!” He had cried eagerly, a small green sprout clutched in his grubby hand. “Look what I made!”
“We have no use for that, Cain. We need meat, and you’re too weak to get it, clearly. Go fetch Abel—why, there’s a boy who’ll grow up to be a fine, strong man. Has he been out hunting or gathering water?
“No,” Cain spat jealously. “Abel never does anything. He’s so lazy, he won’t help me in the garden or even help mummy with the wash.” Cain remembered the days that followed, his little brother wailing and covered in lambs’ blood, his father ordering him to swing the axe straight down without hesitation, without mercy.
“Come on,” Abel snapped, the blood now returning to his previously wan face. “We have somewhere to be tomorrow!”
Cain rose early the next morning, carefully washing each one of his prized vegetables and fruits. He arranged them lovingly, so that they sat in such a way that each shape balanced the others, an angular carrot juxtaposed with the smooth curving face of a squash, the petite olives dotting the expansive canvas of a romaine leaf. When the sun hung high over the center of the domed sky, Abel rushed out to join him, dragging alongside him the dirty carcass of his prey, never looking back at the animal trailing behind.
They walked for hours, trudging tirelessly in the deep sand, warmed but not scalded by the heat of the day. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, Cain cried out.
“Oh!” He said, awe surging through his body. There, in front of them, stood a white-robed figure, with long hair and a wise, old face, exuding an unearthly, heavenly glow.
“Hello, my children,” The figure said in a deep, booming voice. “What have you brought to me?”
Abel started, his foot almost losing touch with the earth for a split second, then strode confidently forward, his lips slightly pursed in disgust at the dead sheep draped across his outstretched arms.
“A lamb?” God said. “The finest of your flock, no doubt.” Abel winced. “You have done well, my son. And you,” He waved at Cain. “You have brought me a cow, perhaps? Or perchance a plump pig?”
“N-no, my Lord,” Cain stuttered, falling to his knees, pressing his forehead to the sand. He pushed the basket forward, still bowing. There followed a long, painful silence as God picked through the bounty of perfect produce in the handmade trug.
“You have…displeased me. You have sinned, Cain, and have cast yourself out from the kingdom of the Lord!” Cain stepped back, awestruck. Silently, he staggered away, aimlessly, and it wasn’t for some time that he realized his brother had followed.
Abel gave Cain a long look. He paused and glanced down, his mouth stretching into a sympathetic half-smile.
“I’m sorry, Cain,” Abel said. “I know how you feel.” Cain’s eyes widened in confusion as he searched for meaning in his brother’s words, some ulterior, cruel motive he might have. As Abel reached out a hand to comfort him, Cain’s brows knotted together and his vision blurred with tears.
“No you don’t!” He shrieked. “You’ve never been in my position, never!” Cain knew he was not being fair, but his eyes still prickled with tears of hatred and jealousy.
“Cain, please—” Abel begged quietly.
It took less than a second. Without warning, without restraint, Cain whipped the knife from his belt. He was at his throat in an instant, holding the sharp blade to Abel’s unblemished skin. He looked at his brother’s face and saw, not Abel, fearful and pleading, but his father’s eyes staring back at him, overwhelmed with the pride they often held when watching Abel. He saw his mother’s smile as she gazed fondly at her son, cooking fresh lamb over the fire. He saw his own flared nostrils and grimace as he tried not to cry, forgotten at the dinner table as his parents cooed over Abel. Abel.
A sudden stroke of movement—then, silence. The empty canvas of the desert painted with a slash of vermillion blood.