Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Small Gods

We changed our gods again last night. The man-who-shaves-all-men-who-do-not-shave-themselves took Lucille out into the desert while the rest of us gathered around the totem-house and built a pyre. When the pyre was high enough, I was chosen to go inside to gather the totems of the old gods and bring them out.

It is always gloomy in the totem-house. This was my third time doing this, so I had some idea of what to expect. The old gods are never willing to go quietly, but if they are weak and attentuated they are easy to resist. These gods had not been here for long and were still strong, still angry. They whispered and roared in my ears, offering me gifts and powers if I would let them stay. They conjured up a vision before me of the desert made lush and green, of trees that soared up as high as the eye could see, and of brightly coloured birds so unlike our desert vultures. I wavered then for a moment, such abundance would bring propserity to us all. But then I remembered that these are only small gods and what they were offering me, really, was to spend the rest of my life seeing things that weren't there, deliriously happy in my blinkered ignorance. Like all religions.

I picked up the first of the totems, the fulgurite that had been the spoor of these gods, and a chill flowed from it and into my hand, and up my arm. I started, and tried to drop it, but it remained stuck to my hand, even when I splayed my fingers wide and shook it hard. This was new, the totems before had been painful to the touch, but the pain was another deception of the small gods, them using their limited influence on the world in their small ways.

The rest of the totems evaporated now as I approached, and the whispers of the old gods became thin screams, fading away like the echoes of the wind down the desert canyons. The chill had reached my shoulder, and my hand hurt as though I had crushed it beneath a heavy rock.

When the last of the totems burned up in a greasy plume of smoke, the totem house seemed to brighten, new light spilling in through the high, narrow slit windows, and a deep, resonant voice told me to go outside.

I left the totem house, and stood in front of the door. The rest of our people backed away from me, spreading out into a semi-circle around the pyre that should have burned the totems. Across the pyre from me was Lucille, alone now, holding up her left hand, in which she held a strand of fulgurite. My hand holding the fulgurite was also my left one, and it seemed to lift up of its own accord. The pain wasn't exactly gone, but had reached an intensity where I could no longer recognise it for what it was.

Something seemed to stir in the depths of the fulgurite, the fire of the pyre swirled and flared, and Lucille spoke in that deep, resonant voice that had made me leave the totem-house. The words rolled over me without meaning, but left me with a feeling of deep dread that the god we had found this time wasn't so small as we could handle.

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