Darren Aronofsky has reimagined one of the most famous stories in the Bible for his new movie Noah. You have to wait until March 28 to see the film for yourself — but you can read the first chapter of the novelization by Mark Morris right now, exclusively at io9!
The ancient stone shrine, set atop a hill, was exposed to both the stars and the wind. Sitting cross-legged on the ground, close to a small fire, a thirteen-year-old boy, gangly, lean and dark-haired, gazed with rapt attention at a middle-aged man standing at the edge of the fire's glow. The man was dressed in simple linens, and the soft orange light lapped at his bearded features, transforming his face to a mask of bronze, albeit one that wore an expression both wise and kind. A small wooden box rested on the ground next to them.
The man was Lamech; the boy his son, Noah. For a while now Lamech had been hinting that Noah would soon be old enough to claim his birthright, and it seemed that the time had come.
Noah was nervous, he couldn't deny that, but he was excited, too. He trusted and loved his father. Like many boys, he believed incontrovertibly not only that his father was right in every decision he made, and that he always spoke the truth, but also that he was indestructible. He listened now to his father's words, concentrating on them so hard that he barely flinched when a fierce gust of wind sprang up, throwing dust into his face and causing the flames of the fire to twist crazily in response, and shadows to cavort around the stone walls of the shrine like dark spirits.
Despite the commotion, the cadence of Lamech's voice didn't alter. Gentle and soft, and yet at the same time deep and authoritative, it was the voice of a man at peace with himself and his beliefs.
"And these are the generations of Adam, whose blessing comes down to us today," he told Noah. "Adam begat Seth. And Seth begat Enosh. Enosh begat Kenan, and Kenan begat Mahalalel..."
Noah glanced at the wooden box. Despite the fact that it was weathered and chipped and scratched, its edges worn smooth by time, he knew the box was somehow important, and that his father would come to it in his own good time.
Now Lamech leaned forward and picked up the box, continuing to speak as he did so.
"And so down to us the blessing passed," he said. "To my father, Methuselah... and then to me..."
Almost reverently he lifted the lid, pausing for a moment to peer at what was inside. Firelight danced in his deep brown eyes, and Noah fancied he saw something like rapture there. Lamech reached into the box and carefully drew out something delicate and shimmering. At first Noah thought it was a length of material, something that, although still glossy, had become wrinkled and a little withered by age. But then, as Lamech put the box aside and began to wrap the item slowly around his arm, Noah realized it wasn't material at all...
It was a snakeskin.
Before his astonished eyes the snakeskin began to shimmer more brightly, as if responding to the beat of life within Lamech's flesh. It seemed to curl up and around Lamech's arm and body of its own accord, undulating as it did so. As if drawing warmth and vitality from Lamech, it began to pulse and glow with life, luminous and beautiful.
Noah became frightened. He looked at his father, but the calmness in Lamech's eyes and the smile on his lips reassured him. Lamech stretched out his scale- wrapped hand.
"Today that birthright passes to you, Noah, my son," he said.
Noah slowly uncrossed his legs and stood up. He didn't know whether to take his father's hand or wait to be instructed. He gazed up trustingly into his father's eyes as Lamech pointed, his index finger hovering an inch or less from Noah's forehead.
"The Creator made Adam in His image, then placed the world in his care," he said. "This is the path we follow, Noah. This is your work now, your responsibility. May you walk alongside the Creator, in righteousness."
Noah's eyes focused on the tip of his father's pointing finger. Like a snake's forked tongue, the reptile skin began to flicker across the gap. He braced himself, clenching his fists tightly, wondering what the living skin would feel like against his flesh...
But all at once they heard a disturbance nearby. Not the wind this time, but the cries and shouts of men, voices raised in anger. Noah glanced at his father, saw the consternation on his face.
"Men," Lamech said. "Hide!"
Noah needed no further bidding. He scuttledaway and ducked down behind a nearby rock.
Crouching in the shadows, peering out from behind the rock, he watched as a score of what he knew to be miners, their skin filthy and their clothes torn and bedraggled, crested the hilltop, flanked by eight armor-clad warlords. Behind them, in the distance, rose the slender, spire-like skyscrapers of a city, among which smokestacks belched out fire andplumes of choking, poisonous smoke.
The leader of the warlords was a giant—or soit seemed to Noah. The man who strode arrogantly forward was huge, monstrous, his heavily muscled body bulked out further by his battle-dented armor. His arms and legs, scarred and mud-smeared, were like tree trunks, his long, unkempt hair and straggly beard flowing from a brutal, heavily-featured face. Gazing at him in terror, Noah saw a nose that was bulbous and crooked, cheeks and forehead striped and mottled with scar tissue, eyes that were steel- gray, cold, full of pride and cruelty.
Ignoring Lamech, the enormous man strode forward and rammed something into the ground. Noah recognized it as an auger, a tool with a corkscrew-like device on the end for boring holes. No sooner had the giant shoved the tool into the earth than he twisted it and yanked it out again. He examined the plug of earth that the auger had extracted, then grinned and showed it to the group of hard-bitten miners and soldiers standing expectantly behind him.
"Pure tzohar," he said.
The group nodded and muttered in appreciation. Still concealed behind his rock, Noah scanned their faces and shivered. He couldn't see an ounce of kindness or mercy in a single one of them.
Terrifying though the intruders were, Noah saw his father stride forward, outraged and unafraid.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
The giant turned and regarded Lamech with a kind of lazy curiosity, as though he was nothing more than a vaguely unusual insect.
"I am Tubal-cain!" he declared. "What is it to you, old man?"
The name was familiar to Noah. His father had told him the story of how Cain had struck down his brother Abel and killed him out of greed and jealousy.
"This is the Creator's land," Lamech said in answer to Tubal-cain's question. "It is not—"
But he got no further. Almost casually, Tubal- cain backhanded Lamech across the face with a heavily gauntleted hand. As Tubal-cain's companions laughed, Lamech staggered backward, blood pouring from his split lip, and tumbled to the dirt.
"The Creator?" Tubal-cain sneered. "My mines run dry, my city withers and must be fed... and what has your precious Creator done? He cursed us to struggle by the sweat of our brows to survive. Damned if I don't do everything it takes to do just that."
Suddenly he spotted the snakeskin glimmering on Lamech's arm. His eyes lit up with greed.
"And damned if I don't take what I want," he said.
Crouching beside Lamech's body, he pinned the older man down with one hand and tugged the snakeskin loose from around his arm.
As soon as the snakeskin was deprived of its contact with Lamech's flesh, it lost its luster. It became dull and lifeless once more, nothing but a length of dry, shriveled, ancient reptile flesh that looked as though it might crumble if handled too roughly. But this deterred Tubal-cain not one iota. Laughing, he draped the skin around his shoulders—a victor's prize, a spoil of war.
"This relic belongs to Cain's line now," he roared. "The line of Seth ends here!"
Noah saw his father push himself shakily to his knees.
"May He show you His mercy, Tubal-cain..." Lamech said, extending a hand toward the huge warrior, as if to bestow a blessing upon him.
Tubal-cain's face twisted with contempt. He spat on Lamech. "I do not need it."
And then, without hesitation, the huge warrior pulled an axe from the belt around his waist, swung it round and smashed it down on Lamech's skull.
If he had been able to draw the breath to do so, Noah would have screamed. His entire being blazed with horror and hatred and disbelief. But he could only gape as Tubal-cain kicked his father's body aside and roared, "This land is ours! Now dig!"
Noah, still shocked beyond measure, stared at his father's body. His faint glimmer of hope—that his father might merely be injured—evaporated in an instant. Lamech's skull had been crushed, and Noah could see that his eyes were already glazing over in death.
Tubal-cain disdainfully wiped the blood from his axe on Lamech's garment and re-sheathed it. As he grinned once again at his men, Noah rose shakily to his feet, turned and began to run, moving as silently as he could and keeping the ancient rock shrine between himself and his father's killers to avoid detection. It anguished him that he would not be able to bury his father, nor even kiss him on the forehead, close his glazed eyes and murmur a prayer in his honor, but he was certain that Lamech would understand.
He ran and ran, and he didn't stop running until he had descended one hill and crested another. Only then, surrounded by the silence of the night, did he turn and look at what he was leaving behind.
It was a scene his father would have hated. The city, driven by Man's greed and iniquity, its vast chimneys belching out smoke and flame, lit up the sky like a funeral pyre.
Noah, now a homeless orphan, fell to his knees and wept.