Heaven’s Loss

By sebastian levar spivey


Warm_Tail/ Shutterstock


“Well of course they’re all dead now. That is why ha’Elohim sent the Deluge – to rid us of them and their descendants.”

How can someone say something so violent with such serenity? Thought Tashmet, kneading the mound of dough into a firm sphere shape, 200 years is not enough time for us to have grieved everything we never knew, the kin we never met. 

“What is this “haelohim?”” Questioned Babu, “You go on imagining that there is a single god, playing fancy word games, treating plurals like individuals, this is why the Deluge was sent – people like you being too loud. The gods just wanted peace.”

Shekinah chewed on her lower lip, too sincere to catch Babu’s humorous tone but too sweet to respond in argument.

“Why wipe out their sons? Or his sons? Or hers – whatever you like, I’ve heard everything. They must have been real bastards. Or just too good. Too good for this rotten earth. They say things were bad beforehand but they obviously hadn’t met Nimrod. But I guess it isn’t the earth that’s rotten – its us. We are barely eight generations past the Deluge and we’re already back to our violent nonsense.” Ereshkigal was not from this land. She had been dragged here after a bloody conquest a few years ago, “taken” by a soldier to be his woman, a role she filled with all the self-protective anger she could summon. 

“Great sex, no stipulations,” Ninkasi smirked, “the heavens looked down and said, ‘these dust-mites can’t become lords like us, we must impose order!’ So they cleaned the ground and started again.” Ninkasi was between marriages at the moment. Somehow she had figured out how to play the inheritance game to her favor, gambling her seemingly perpetual youth against the age and impotence of the city’s older and less rigid denizens. The last one had gone badly, though, and until her dowry made it out of a legal hangup, she was working here in the shop.

“Can you imagine what the ceremonies must have been like, though?”  Shekinah was betrothed, a few moon rises away from leaving this shop for the home of her husband’s family. An only daughter with two generous brothers, her family had managed to work together a dowry that brought her a betrothed from the upper-classes, and the upcoming public display of her social transition held her imagination rapt, “my brother is going down to the southern quarter to get oil, you know its the best there, so near the groves, and you should see the fabric my mother has been weaving and — 

“Can you imagine the nights after?” Ninkasi interjected, sending a smoldering stare at Shekinah.

“Can you imagine the days?” darted in Ereshkigal with scorn.

“You have it wrong, all of you.” A voice, low, resonant, musical, glided in. Everyone turned to look at the speaker. She was new in the shop, extraordinarily tall with hair the blue-black of night and eyes that perpetually reflected starlight. She carried herself with a regality that felt out of place in a brewery, and thus far no-one had been able to break past her reserve far enough to learn anything about her other than her name – Shemihazah. 

“Which part, the gods or their sons?” Ninkasi raised an eyebrow.

Shemihazah gazed at Ninkasi for a long minute, as if deliberating whether to answer, then locked eyes with each of the other women in turn. Tashmet felt the energy of the room change with each shift of Shemihazah’s celestial stare; when her turn came, it felt like she’d tripped backward and was suddenly-slowfalling though something cold and smooth as the finest linen.

Shemihazah’s eyes returned to Ninkasi’s, “Your first error is to assume that they were all sons.” Ninkasi’s other eyebrow joined the first. “Your second error is to assume they, or their descendants for that matter, are all dead.”

“But the Deluge!” exclaimed Shekinah

“You think that the gods don’t know their way around the sluices in Heaven’s Vault? I promise you they would not let themselves or their children be washed away on the whim of a dissatisfied artist, now matter how badly the craft work had indeed turned out.”

Shekinah started chewing her lower lip again, perplexed and uncomfortable with where the story was going. 

Babu noticed Shekinah’s distress and tried to lift the mood, “Ah, there are so many stories, just like Ereshkigal said. What tales we tell to keep ourselves entertained!”

“To keep ourselves forgetful,” muttered Ereshkigal

To keep ourselves together, thought Tashmet, how else can we still laugh in front of so much grief?

“This is not just a story,” said Shemihazah, “but it is a story that may require something of you, something I am not sure you are ready to give….

The conversation was interrupted by one of Babu’s three children, coming in to announce that the youngest child had just shattered an entire pot of soaking grains on the hard clay floor. The following hubbub ended the conversation for the rest of the afternoon.




The next day, once they had all settled into the longer, more mindless tasks of running a brewery-bakery, Ninkasi brought the subject back up:

“Shemihazah, you promised us a story yesterday. You were going to tell us all the secrets of the Nephilim.” She winked at Shekinah, who blushed.

Shemihazah gave a small, distant smile. “Alright. But you must understand that stories cannot be unheard. Learning new truths makes some lives impossible.”

“The only thing that makes life impossible greedy men and their violent conquests. This is the only truth I know. If you can make their world impossible I welcome your story.” Ereshkigal punctuated her statement by snapping the head off a grain stalk with unnecessary force.

“Are we agreed?”

They all nodded, Tashmet with surprising eagerness and Shekinah last of all.

“Then I will tell.”

They all settled into their positions, their hands going through the learned motions of the task while they let themselves float into Shemihazah’s words.

“The earth was richer before the Great Deluge. Soil so dark and loamy that any seed you spit into the ground would have sprouted by the next morning, become a sapling by the next moon and be dropping its own fruit after three. 

“The work we are doing now,” she nodded around, “was done in half the time. The beer tasted of the richest malt and the bread rose light as smoke to Heaven. One drink of such beer brought ecstasy, one portion of bread a day’s energy.

“Every morning when the Sun sailed across Vault to subdue the chaos of Nights’ watery serpents, He broke the rim of the world with such splendorous color; reds as deep as pomegranates, yellows richer than saffron-laced yolks, purples as breathy as a the petals of a rose and other colors yet that you cannot even imagine.

“This Earth was the finest handiwork the gods had ever managed. Their own palaces above the Vault began to look drab, their floors chilled and dampened by the Upper Waters and the embellished walls simple in comparison to the intricate lacework of the stars’ patterns across the sky.

“And there, across the whole surface of it, walked humanity. We were bloody, yes, some of us at least, violent and greedy as they say. But beautiful, all of us, and all of us capable of the most exquisite loves, whether they took the form of passion or creation, and whether or not we chose to cultivate ourselves towards them. 

“The gods looked down on us and all our goodness and they desired – who would not? – to posses it within themselves. Some came and took,” Shemihazah looked straight at Ereshkigal, “some chose to dwell among us and others chose to raise their beloveds up to the level of the gods….”

They had all become so entranced in Shemihazah’s word that they had not noticed the dimming of the light. Babu, whose eyes were the oldest, snapped the reverie with an “oh!” when she realized she could could no longer see what her hands were doing. They set about gathering themselves up for a night’s respite, the story broken again mid-telling. 

In the street outside, Tashmet caught up to Shemihazah. Every time she tried to speak to her (or even in front of her) she felt a delightful but unsettling lightheadedness unrelated to the percolating vats of beer in the back of the shop. It came upon her even here, in the clear outside air. 

“I just want to know –“ Tashmet stumbled out her words – “Where did you hear this story? I mean this version of the story?” 

“Who can say? Stories just have a way of traveling around.” Shemihazah replied, eyeing Tashmet with some humor and curiosity. “You heard everyone else telling their versions yesterday; what makes you think mine is anything special?”

“You tell it like a memory. I mean like, something you are remembering for yourself. I mean like you are remembering something you knew, not something you were told.” Tashmet inwardly cursed herself for her sudden inability to articulate.

Shemihazah laughed, a sound more lovely and lightly resonant than music of the lyre players who sometimes visited the market. “I told you stories travel. I have traveled as well. It is no wonder that this story and I know each other. But come, are you going along this street as well? If we hurry we can catch the last of the sunset from the top of the hill.”

Body buzzing with the unexpected invitation, Tashmet lost the rest of her words and followed Shemihazah up the path, trying to keep her smile from dancing itself of her face.




The story was left unattended for the next several days, as the tasks of the shop kept everyone scattered about on different duties. They were preparing for the new moon celebration, which, as it happens every 28 days, dictated the regular flow of work in the shop. Leading up the the celebration is a flurry of movement, distributing fresh-brewed beer into smaller pots and preparing the special moon cakes that accompany the festivities. Once the new moon would show itself, they would have a small break in the labor which then steadily picked up until the the beginning of the next moon cycle.

Tashmet and Shemihazah’s evening strolls had become just as regular, as they walked side by side through each progressively darker night.  Tashmet was so caught up with the giddy delight of it that she had half-forgotten the story already, preoccupied with attempting to maintain her composure in front of the ever-regal Shemihazah. They talked, though Shemihazah had a way of avoiding direct answers to personal queries and Tashmet was not one to chatter idly. Shemihazah instead began to tell Tashmet how to find her way by the stars, each lesson and each successive night charging the lightening air between them.




Several days after the festival, Shekinah was elaborating new details of her planned marriage celebration when Ereshkigal interrupted

“Shemihazah! You never finished telling us about the beautiful humans and their covetous gods. Did they celebrate their unions like this girl here is planning?”

“In a way.”

“Ha!” laughed Ninkasi, “‘In a way’; you must be understating it. If Shekinah’s plan is the best the gods can come up with there’s no wonder Heaven was so drab.”

Shekinah scowled at Ninkasi. Babu chuckled, but added that Shekinah’s ceremony is the loveliest she’s heard of in recent days and will be all the better thanks to the special batch they have brewing for it.  Tashmet glanced at Shemihazah, a fleeting image of the two of them exiting the ritual bath together and anointing each other with perfumed oil causing a flush of scarlet to burn up her skin. Ninkasi caught both blush and glance, but just before an accustomed quip left her tongue she noticed the way that Shemihazah looked back at Tashmet. It wasn’t possessive, exactly, and not lustful or wistful, certainly, but a look that contained all three, along with something more… longing? It was similar to the look that the traveling musicians got when singing the epic tales of old. 

“Do tell though!” Shekinah turned to Shemihazah, “I know mine is nothing much to speak of – I just like to think about things other than barley and bran.” 

Shemihazah smiled warmly, “Yes, I will tell, but first you must discard certain assumptions. Not all the god-children are men, of course; and not all the rest are women either. And all of them took and gave indiscriminate of the sex of their human partners”

“But how!” gasped Shekinah.

“I’ll tell you how,” laughed Ninkasi.

“No! I mean, you know, there are so many rules about who pays for what and who goes where and who says which things in and in what order and who is guilty if its not done to form.” Shekinah sighed exasperatedly, going over her own mental list.

“Ah, but remember this was before the Deluge, when chaos reigned” Babu overexagerated the last two words, laughing along with Ninkasi.

“Not chaos, no; it had its own order.” said Shemihazah. “ Here, I will describe to you one marriage, between a human woman and an androgyne god.

“The human woman was a singer, Ninatta, with a voice that could lull even Leviathan into peaceful slumber. One of seven siblings, each with the same onyx eyes and restless souls. The god Kulitta heard her voice as they traveled through the lower levels of the vault and resolved to search out the source.

“She was traveling across the plain of Shinar with one of her sisters, a harpist, and their troupe of troubadours. They had made camp for the night with nomad clan, trading song for sustenance. Kulitta wrapped themselves in a cloak walked quietly up to the edges of the firelight. They were enraptured. Ninatta swayed as she sang, weaving among the figures gathered at flames edge, ending the song with a dramatic flourish at Kulitta’s feet. After that night Kulitta joined the travelers, drawing Ninatta away nightly, plying her attention with stories of the stars and those who live among them, which Ninatta would spin into song during the next performance. 

“By journeys end they were both infatuated. Kulitta promised Ninatta a life of among the stars she had so long been singing of, and they both began to arrange for a celebration that would befit their union. 

“The day came. The whole city turned out. Before Ninatta danced scores of musicians, including those of her own troupe, every member of her party dressed half in women’s clothes and half in men’s, with young priests and priestesses brandishing swords in choreographed violence. The finest of beers flowed like water, and in the garden of the monarch of the city, Ninatta and Kulitta anointed each other amidst the prayers and chanting of those gathered around. The feasting lasted for two weeks straight, and at the end of each night Kulitta took Ninatta to a flowered bed around which they’d built their temporary earthly abode. 

“Together they traveled across the Earth, she innovating new songs from the stories they would tell, casting spells on all who heard. Eventually she had a child, a daughter, to whom each parent taught their gift. 

“Then came the Deluge. Who is to say why. Once petty arguments turn to slaughter it is impossible to say what caused what. There had been enough rumors, enough allusions made at gatherings and plots overheard in the corridors of Heaven that some gods, like Kulitta, were prepared. There was no way that those who planned the Deluge were going to allow any humans to be openly spared, so those who desired to keep their lovers and families alive found other, surreptitious ways. Perhaps you have heard of Noach? I think you Ha’Elohim was partial to him.” Shemihazah glanced a moment at Shekinah, then resumed, “Kulitta, after so much study of the stars, brought Ninatta and their daughter along with them to the base of Heaven’s Vault, crawling up inside along the tunnels they knew would stay dry. It was here, suspended in the crags between Heaven and earth, that the three of them (as well as a few others) hid themselves amidst the torrents that spewed from both directions.

“After the flood settled, with untold dead, those who survived were so burdened with grief that the world they built lacked the luster of the previous era and the societies that emerged became skewed in power. Pain and toil continue to multiply,” Shemihazah waved her hands around gracefully but mournfully, “You all know the details.”

“What happened to Ninatta and her child?” Asked Ereshkigsal, quietly.

“As you know, those before the flood lived for hundreds of years. Ninatta tried to sing the world back into beauty, with little success. After watching two successive generations age and die in front of her still youthful eyes, Ninatta waded into the sea with rocks tied around her ankles and kept walking until the shore disappeared far above and behind her. The gods of Heaven were making it increasingly difficult for their children to come down to Earth, sealing all the cracks in the Vault that they could find, and after Ninatta walked into the Deep Kulitta returned to their heavenly abode to stay.

“And the child?”

Shemihazah smiled. “Who can say. There are many who say these children of the children of the gods still walk the Earth today, bound just as much to this side of the Deluge as their parents were to the other. But I have told you all the story that I have to tell.”

A reflective silence enveloped the room.

“Well, Shekinah my dear,” Said Babu after a long pause, trying to bring them back to the present and its tasks, “I don’t think we have two weeks of endless beer for you, but I promise you will have at least one night of the richest brew this city has to offer.”

Shekinah smiled sweetly, but her mind, like those of all in the room, was still wandering with the gods through Shemihazah’s pre-Deluge Earth.




During their walk that night, Shemihazah pressed Tashmet with unusual urgency to tell back to her all Tashmet had learned about celestial navigation. 

“Do you see those stars there? Tell me, who are they.”

Tashmet followed the line of Shemihazah’s elegant arm and long, tapered finger to a cluster of stars deep in the night sky.

“Those are…those are the Great Twins.”

“Yes. And they are indeed Great. And this is because they have refused to follow all Heaven’s gods’ commands. They guard one of the fissures in the Vault. Within that fissure and in a hidden city below it here on Earth, the children of the children of the gods have built a refuge for themselves where they may, with cunning, continue to live between their two homelands and yet be with the ones they most love. When the Great Twins ascend, as they are now, there is an opportunity to find that city and, perhaps, enter the Vault itself.”

“You speak so earnestly. Are you still telling tales?”

“I am telling you all I have.”

They had reached their usual point of parting, though this night felt different than the others; a deep darkness sucking them in like rich honey. Tashmet felt the depth of it sinking into her pores, making it impossible to think clearly. She felt like she was flowing backwards out of her own body.

“It is time for us to part.”

“I’ll…see you in the morning?” Tashmet’s voice ended, to her own surprise, in a question.

Shemihazah didn’t respond. Instead she turned to face Tashmet fully, grasping both her hands. “Goodnight, Tashmet.” 




The next day, Shemihazah was not at the shop. Tashmet attempted to go about her tasks, but in her preoccupation with Shemihazah’s absence she broke two pots, burnt an entire batch of loaves, and nearly toppled herself into one of the percolating vats. She was in enough of a state that Babu sent her home when they broke for midday meal, saying that she was “creating more work than she was doing” and should rest until she collected herself.

Ninkasi, announcing that she wanted to procure some fresh figs from the market square, caught up to her as she left the building.

“Your lover is not here today.”

“We are not – but no, and she didn’t tell me she wouldn’t be.” Tashmet chewed her lip and desperately tried to read Ninkasi’s face for information.

“What was the last thing she said to you?”

“’Goodnight.’ But she’s been teaching me about the stars, at night, when we leave, and last night she was pressing me so hard to tell back all I had learned. She told me a story about the Great Twins, said that they were guardians of a secret city of Nephilim, and that if a person followed their rising stars they could find the city themselves. But I could not tell if she was still just telling a story.”

“Tashmet, I am not so sure she has ever been ‘just telling a story.’”

They exchanged a long, serious gaze.

“You have heard about all my marriages; some of the men were dogs, others were lovely, and others were blander than the dessert sand; but you know what? There is not a single one of them who I have ever looked at the way I have seen you look at each other. Tashmet, if there is anyone worth tracing a pathway through the stars, it is someone who looks at you like that.”

“You think I should go find this city? Even if it is not real?”

“I think that if you took this journey you would come back to the shop with better tales to tell than you have now.” Ninkasi laughed, then pressed Tashmet’s hands in her own, “But Tashmet, and I say this with all my love and intention, I hope you don’t come back.”




The next few weeks in the were quiet. Tashmet had been such a steady presence, and Shemihazah such an enrapturing one, that it took a while for a new equilibrium to emerge. When they celebrated Shekinah’s marriage four moons later, the beer was as rich as promised and Shekinah as radiant as the sun, but for all of them, Shekinah included, the day was edged in melancholy. They had all, briefly, imagined themselves walking half-divine among the stars, and days like this were heavy with Heaven’s loss.


About the author:  sebastian levar spivey is a writer, artist, and researcher interested in death, liminal spaces, the uncanny, and the transcendent. They have a master of divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School where they were the recipient of the Brandon Honor Scholarship and the John Olin Knott award for creative and scholarly writing. They also have a certificate in bioethics from Yale and a bachelors in studio art and religious studies from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Their writing has appeared previously in NonBinary Review. More of their work can be found on their website, https://www.earthlingdeathcult.art/ and on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/s-spivey/.



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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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