Seth sighed at the uninspired mess on the canvas. He kicked the easel, causing it to screech along the floorboards, before tossing his charcoal at the wall.
Heavy rain snaked down the windows, casting errant shadows around the gloom of the studio apartment.
Something smacked the top of Seth’s head.
He glanced up, spotting a discolored patch on the ceiling.
A splotch of water struck him in the eye. He recoiled from the shock, stifling a cry before losing his balance on the stool and crashing to the floor.
Boris Gorsky blocked the doorway, his ruddy bulldog face beaded with sweat. From the apartment beyond came the wanton moans and wet sounds of an orgy in full swing.
“It’s late,” huffed Boris in a thick Slavic accent.
“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Gorsky. I have a leak. In my ceiling. Would you mind checking the roof, see if there’s rain getting in somewhere?”
Boris squeezed the remote in his hand, silencing the orgy in his apartment. “No going on roof. Roof broken.”
“I know it’s broken. There’s water in my apartment.”
Boris grunted. “Use bucket. I fix in the morning.” He waved a fleshy arm. “Go.”
The door shut on Seth’s souring face as the lustful chorus resumed.
The light in the stairwell wasn’t working.
Seth fumbled in the dark, feeling around the top of the doorframe. He didn’t think Mr. Gorsky was careless enough — or tall enough — to leave a key in such an obvious place, but it was worth a shot. Frigid air slipped under the door, sending a chill through Seth’s ankles. He could hear the torrential rain lashing the roof on the other side.
Seth’s probing hand brushed something, disturbing a thick layer of dust. His fingers recognised the shape of a key.
A resounding click echoed down the stairwell as the door unlocked. Seth turned the handle, pushed: it gave an inch before refusing to budge any further. He braced himself and dropped his shoulder against the door.
Seth stumbled forward, brilliant light dazzling him.
The air was warm and full of rich floral scents. Birds trilled as a gentle breeze caressed his face. His eyes recovered, adjusting to the…bright daylight?
Seth stood in a grove rimmed with lush forest. The trees swarmed with an abundance of life.
He marveled at his peculiar surroundings. “Is this a dream?”
A zebra broke through the grove and bolted for the other side, a baboon perched placidly on its back.
Seth blinked. “I don’t think I could dream that up.”
He glanced back at where he had come from. An enormous tree loomed, limbs branching in all directions. Set within the deep hollow at its base was the faintest trace of a door.
Seth returned his attention to the grove and promptly froze. A lion stood several feet away, piercing eyes locked on him.
Seth took a delicate step back.
“He won’t hurt you,” spoke a gentle female voice.
Seth yelped at the words. He staggered, tripping on exposed roots before tumbling down an embankment into a stream.
He quickly fished himself from the water, sputtering a curse. Thankfully, there was no sign of the lion.
“Are you alright?” A woman stood near the stream, waist-length hair doing little to hide her flawless naked form.
Seth wasn’t sure where to look. “No, actually. I think I’ve lost my mind. Maybe eaten a bad oyster.” He glanced around for the lion. “However, I am glad that Aslan has moved on.”
The woman pointed to his body. “What is that on you?”
Seth regarded himself. “These? They’re clothes.”
“Clothes…” She said the word as if trying it on. “Why do you have them?”
Seth shrugged. “Modesty, I suppose. Look, who are you? Where exactly is this?”
The woman smiled. “I’m Eve. And this is my home, Eden.”
Seth spat a laugh.
Eve frowned. “You mock me?”
“Not at all. This is brilliant! I don’t know how you managed to pull it off, but this is—“
Seth stared, mouth agape, at the woman’s stomach.
She was missing her navel.
Seth’s legs went rubbery. “You know, I just remembered I have…a thing.” He rushed past Eve and up the embankment.
Eve called after him. “Wait! Where are you going?”
Seth was having none of it. He made a frantic dash for the door in the tree.
Seth struggled out of bed. He didn’t usually sleep naked, but for some reason he had last night. He’d also left the front door wide open. He stepped around a pile of damp clothes and shuffled for the bathroom. The front door could wait — his bladder would not. Memories of a strange dream drifted through his early morning brain fog.
“Man, that was messed u—“ His words twisted into a scream as he entered the bathroom.
Eve stood in front of the mirror, pulling faces at her reflection. “She copies everything I do.” Eve poked out her tongue to demonstrate. “See?”
“What…how…did you get here?”
“I followed you. You never told me your name.” Eve faced him, beaming with delight.
Seth was suddenly very aware of his nakedness. He cupped his loins with both hands. “Okay, listen. My name is Seth McCain. And I really need to pee…so could you please get out?”
“I don’t mind if—“
Eve sulked past him on her way to the door.
Seth found Eve touring his apartment, picking up objects for closer inspection. She held a piece of fruit to her nose and sniffed it. “What is this?”
Seth sighed. “It’s an apple. You eat it.” Something pinged in his brain. “Or not.” He lunged to snatch the fruit away from her curious mouth.
“Eve, why are you here?”
“I wanted to see you again. I’ve spent the last few days thinking about you.”
“Few days? It was last night.”
“Look, you really shouldn’t be here,” said Seth. “I’m not even sure how this is possible. What about Adam?”
Eve stiffened. “You know him?”
“Sure. Kind of. I’ve heard…stories.”
Eve rolled her eyes. “He’s so boring. All he does is sit around and give names to animals.”
“That sounds like a very important job. A respectable job. Pay good?”
Eve placed a hand on his shoulder. His naked shoulder, belonging to his very naked body. There was so much nakedness.
“I want a man who can excite me…”
Seth cleared his throat.
Boris cleared his throat.
The portly superintendent lurked in the doorway, an oily smirk smeared across his face. “I come to fix leak. Maybe later?”
Seth cupped himself again. “Ah, yes. Later. I was just…” He sat at the easel, crossed his legs, and began frantically sorting through a box of soft pastels. “I’m working on a nude. This is Eve…Evie.”
Boris eyeballed Seth. “You draw nudes in the nude?”
Seth started sketching on the canvas with a deep red pastel. “Sure. Why not? Evens the playing field.”
Boris shrugged. “Okay, that’s weird. But enjoy.” He lingered for several uneasy moments before closing the door behind him.
Seth drew furiously, his strokes impassioned and purposeful. Color spilled onto the canvas as he took in Eve’s eager form.
Eve’s cheeks grew flushed. Two perfect teeth nibbled at her bottom lip as she watched him work. Seth caught the luster in her eyes. It mirrored his own rising fervor.
An inner voice — tiny, impotent — niggled at his thoughts.
Thou shall not do anything stupid, Seth.
Thou. Shall. Not.
Seth stared at the ceiling, rigid and wide-eyed.
Eve languished next to him, basking in the post-coital glow. “That was heavenly. What do you call it?”
Seth expected to be struck down at any moment. “A mistake.” He sat up. “Eve, you need to go. I’ve done a terrible thing.”
“Nothing terrible would feel that good.”
“If only it were that simple. You have to go back to Adam. And Eden.” Seth remembered the lion. “And Aslan.”
He climbed out of bed, wrestled into fresh clothes.
“Why are you saying this?” said Eve.
“Because it’s the right thing to do. It’s history. Or mythology. Or whatever you want to call it. It’s written.”
He rummaged through the pile of damp clothes until he found what he was looking for: a small ornate key. “You’re going home, and I’m going to lock the door so we can put all this behind us.”
Eve sat up, clutching the sheet to herself. Tears brimmed in her eyes. “You don’t love me?”
Seth laughed. “I just met you.” He then sighed, wiped the crease from his brow with a heavy hand. “Look, I haven’t felt like that in years. Or drawn like that in years. But this? This is way above me.” Seth pointed up. “Way above.”
Eve sobbed as Seth opened the door and beckoned her.
Seth sat in the cold apartment, staring at a blank canvas. He’d been this way for the last few weeks. Drinking, moping. At least the leak in his ceiling had been fixed. He surveyed his surroundings, eyes eventually resting on a paint-spotted sheet thrown over something in a corner. He stood, shambled over, and pulled the sheet aside.
Eve beamed at him, her image washed in resplendent color. Seth ran his fingers along the canvas, tracing the lines of the drawing. He then flipped the canvas around and regarded the object taped to the back of it.
He stood there for some time, listening to his own shallow breathing, considering the key and its potential consequences.
Seth hurried across the grove. Leaves tore to the ground as a fierce wind whipped through the trees. On the horizon, dark storm clouds threatened the tranquility of the sky.
He called for Eve as he trudged blindly through the forest. Eventually, trees gave way to verdant grassland. An impressive menagerie of animals congregated around a vast lake, seemingly unsettled by the turn in weather.
“What are you doing here, Seth McCain?” Eve stood near the forest edge, resting a hand on her pregnant belly.
Seth pointed a shaky finger. “That’s not…I didn’t…”
Eve smiled. “No, this is Adam’s doing. I merely shared with him what you shared with me.” She lowered her voice. “He’s not so boring now.”
“You seem different,” said Seth. “Older…”
A naked hulk of a man burst from the forest, shaking a fist at Seth. “So you’re the vile serpent that seduced my wife!”
Seth snorted at the absurd — and not entirely untrue — accusation.
“Leave before I sic my curly-toothed megacow on you!”
Adam pointed at a shaggy beast down by the lake.
Seth pursed his lips. “You mean the mammoth?”
Adam thought about it, conceded a nod. “That is a much better name for it.” His anger faded. He wrapped thick arms around Eve and gently drew her in.
“Thank you, Seth,” said Eve. “For what you have given us. We were warned not to venture near the tree you sprang from, yet nothing but good has come from it.”
Seth studied the darkening sky. “I’m not so sure. I get the feeling Daddy’s a little pissed.”
Adam frowned. “We will answer to that. You must go home.”
Eve rubbed her belly. “Life springs in all of us, Seth. Enough to fill our entire world. Do you know this?”
Seth nodded. He was surprised by the tears in his eyes.
Thunder boomed in the distance. The air trembled.
Eve took a deep breath. “You best leave, Seth McCain. Now.”
“McCain…” pondered Adam. “…Cain. A good name for a son.” He placed a reassuring palm on Eve’s belly.
Seth raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, well, just tell him to be nice to his brother.” He took one last look at the couple. They leaned into each other as the storm broiled behind them. He then hurried for home as rain began to fall and lightning crashed above.
When Seth traveled back through the door that final time, he brought all the colors and textures of Eden with him.