It was morning in the garden, and the Master had stopped at the garden’s edge where the blue-green grass grew right up to the place where the earth fell away. The Master looked down into the depths where a river of fire roared through the narrow gorge, and the Master spotted Ahab, blistered and burned, crowded with the others on a narrow shelf of rock above the flaming torrent.
It was true that Ahab deserved his fate. He had murdered some and stolen from others, but the Master remembered a single act of kindness. Ahab, lifting his foot to crush the head of a snake, had stopped, convinced that the snake was harmless. To kill it would be thoughtlessly cruel.
Remembering this, the Master felt compassion. There was a snake at his feet, casting off its skin. With his walking stick, the Master gently lifted the end of the dead skin and laid it over the edge. The snake wriggled and twisted, and its skin slowly descended into the abyss.
Ahab, crushed by the constant shifting of bodies on the rocky ledge, looked up away from the fiery river and saw the snake skin, slowly descending.
“If only it would stretch far enough,” he thought, “I might pull myself to safety.”
As the snake skin came closer, Ahab reached until he touched its tip. He grasped tightly the slippery scales, and in spite of his pain, Ahab climbed, hand over hand, higher and higher. At first, Ahab climbed quickly, but he soon grew tired, and the cliff’s edge seemed so far. As he looked back down to the river, however, Ahab was encouraged by how far he had come. But Ahab saw something else. There was a man beneath him, climbing the same snake skin. And beneath him, another man. And beneath him, another man.
Ahab let out an anguished cry. For how could the dead, slender skin possibly hold the weight of all those eager to escape the flames of the abyss? Ahab felt fear’s sharp sting, and then he was angry.
“Get off! Go back!” he shouted to the men below. “This is my skin!”
With that, the skin broke, and Ahab fell to the rocks and fire below. The Master looked on with sadness. Ahab’s greed had destroyed him (as well as the rest).
The blue-green grass swayed gently in the breeze at the cliff’s edge. It was about noon in the garden.
With his walking stick, the Master gently lifted the end of the dead skin and laid it over the edge. The snake wriggled and twisted, and its skin slowly descended into the abyss.