"Goliath" was included in the collection A Light in the Darkness and Other Stories in 2017. Copyright © 2005 Sean Slagle Reprinted by Northside Books & Media, an imprint of AGF Publishing, with permission from the author. All rights reserved.
The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you. - Deuteronomy 31:8
I sit in front of my tent, located in the outer realms of our camp at Ephes Dammim. It has been a regular routine for the last forty days to sit around camp sharpening knives, swords and spears. There has been no action, except for my lonely ventures to the top of the hill. My armor bearer shines my shield and a shiver comes over me; not from the bearer, but from something else; something supernatural and unseen. I feel lonely, mistrust, fear and death, which I have never felt before.
I’ve always been lonely. Being the greatest warrior in the land tends to isolate a person, which gives much time to think and reflect on past deeds. I have even begun to question my own motives for fighting; thinking that perhaps there are other means of ending disputes. I know it’s a cowardly thing to think, but I have thought it. Who would ever believe that a giant war hero, who is stronger than anyone in Philistine, experiences fear, loneliness and womanish ideas?
There have been many times, after moments of reflection, that I have wanted to cry, and deep inside I did cry. The men I have slain seem to call from beyond and curse me until the day I die. At night I can see their faces staring at me as life leaves their bodies; the look on their faces; the pain in their eyes; the limpness of their limbs. I can hear them calling me now!
I look away; afraid someone might see the water building in my eyes. I act as though I am looking for my greaves in the tent. Once inside, I close my eyes in hopes of easing the pain. The images of fallen men burn in my brain. I let out a cry of anguish and hurl my greaves from the tent. My armor bearer jumps to his feet and runs away. There is no reason for him to fear me. It is for him and thousands of children like him that I have come to war against Saul and his army.
How can it be that the very people I fight to protect fear me as much as those I have proclaimed as my enemies? Do they believe I will do to them what I do to my enemy when he comes at me with a javelin and spear? Am I a cannibal preying on my own kind? I’m just a man. The same kind of man the armor bearer will grow to be; the same kind of man as those fighting beside me. Am I an unjust murderer because I have excelled in war? Am I a beast because I have killed thousands in the name of the Philistines? I am just a man!
A commander, telling me to return to the hill, breaks my deep thought. Without questioning my orders, I place the greaves on my legs and stand up. I put on my coat of scale armor, place a bronze helmet on my head, slide my sword into its holder, sling a javelin on my back and pick up a spear. The armor bearer comes running. He grabs my shield and goes ahead of me.
It is a trail we have walked twice a day for the past forty days. Each day, I call out to the Israelites, but they back away. They are afraid of me. I know I must say something defiant to bring them out. If fighting doesn’t begin, the commander is afraid the soldiers will become lazy and reflective.
I reach my destination and look down upon the Israelite camp in the valley of Elah. When I call out to Saul, their entire camp runs for cover. From the way they peer at my shape on the hill, a person would think they have seen something terrifying. I can feel their fear and sense their dismay.
“Why do you come out and line up for battle?” I yell, raising my spear into the air. “Am I not a Philistine? Are you not the servants of Saul?” My voice echoes through the valley. The Israelites cringe at the sound. “Choose a man and have him come to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” There is still no reply. I let out a war cry and raise my hands in the air. “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight!” All are silent in the Israelite camp.
I return to my tent and grab a loaf of bread from my sack. I can’t help wondering if my proposition, or our proposition, is appropriate. Should the fate of an entire army be in the hands of one man, no matter how great in battle he may be? Granted, I am the best and have always won, but there is always someone who knows more; someone who may have one more trick. Do I take that chance with the lives I fight to protect?
My eye catches the armor bearer sitting as far away from me as possible without being disrespectful. He quickly devours his half piece of bread. Being at the bottom of our ranks, he is the last one served at meals. Suddenly, another unknown feeling comes over me, which I can’t resist. I tear off the end of my loaf and hand it to him. He eagerly takes it from me, thanks me, and eats it.
From the top of the hill a scout calls my name, telling me the Israelites have someone to fight me. The whole camp rises in anticipation. The crucial time has arrived. I look around at the lives being placed in my abilities. I let out a scream and hurl a javelin across the field. Everyone backs away and I march to the top of the hill.
As I get closer to the battle line, I see a young boy waiting for me. He is an Israelite and holds a slingshot in his hand. Is he the one I am to fight? Do they send the children to do the work of men? How can I take my wrath out on someone so young? The boy must think he is brave, but perhaps I can scare him off and avoid killing him. I curse by the gods and yell, “Come here, boy, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.”
The boy doesn’t move. He yells something about his God and places a stone in his sling. He wants to fight. I’ll let him strike me first, so my vengeance on the boy will be justified.
Sean Slagle teaches high school English, has coached numerous sports, overseen drama productions, and has served as an adjunct professor. He has been published in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama. He is the author of A Dirge for the Malice series with Floyd's Gap. He is currently working on two works for Northside Books & Media.
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