The Choosing of the Gods

The request for this prompt was merely “define this character”. I decided that her outward appearance of strength would not be what defined her.

I peeked through the tent flap and caught a glimpse of movement in the distance. A lookout. I shrank back to wait, then peeked out again. They would not stop me, of course, but neither would they leave me to myself. Finally, the way seemed clear. I rushed into the shelter of trees and darkness to the holy spring, the only place that was mine. Any other would be driven mad to walk here, they said. Perhaps it was true.

I looked into the water and beheld myself, painted in the patterns that marked me as the God-Chosen. I did not feel God-Chosen. Paint stained the water as I touched the surface, and it was like it washed the strangeness out of me. Suddenly I had to be clean. I scooped water, scrubbing the paint away. I rubbed my face and neck until my skin felt raw, and the paint bloomed into the water, carried away by the spring’s flow.

Finally, I saw my face reflected in the moonlight. This young girl, who was she? Not the God-Chosen of a tribe. The elder God-Chosen — my mother — said that the gods spoke to me through the spill of runes from my hands. But did they? My hands felt like a girl’s hands, clumsy and unsure. I heard no voices, and I made no promises as she had done. Perhaps it was for the best. The gods were capricious, and had used false words to toy with her before.

I touched the water as if laying my hand upon a friend’s brow, addressing my words to the reflected moon in the night sky. “My name is not Hesralta God-Chosen. I am Sryilla Tusfelt. I am a girl. And I am lonely.”

“Your mother was not lonely, at your age.”

All sound ceased but for this voice, and as I whirled I found the entire world was at rest. Windblown leaves hung in the air, insects sat embedded in the air like a stone set into jewelry, even the dust that my movement unsettled had frozen around my feet. “Who are you?”

She ignored my words. Naked and pale, she sat on a rock to watch me. Her brilliantly silver hair floated and streamed as she moved, as if she were underwater. “Your mother was satisfied with her position. She lived in accordance with her rank in the tribe. She told people what to do. She used the respect that was afforded her.”

My eyes widened, and my blood ran cold. I began to fall to my knees, bending to press my face to the dirt, but in a flicker she stood before me, and a cold slap stung my cheek. Her tone was gentle, a counterpoint. “Do not bow and scrape. Stand, speak. Alone among humans, you do not ever bow to anybody.”

I recovered from my shock and stood straighter, my mind awhirl. “You are Luwana? You are . . . the moon?”

She did not look at me as she went to the holy spring, sinking into the water with each graceful step. “I am.”

“You say my mother was confident in her role. Is that why you spoke to her, and only now speak to me?”

Luwana turned, her eyes narrowed. “It is why we never spoke to her. Your mother has never been God-Chosen. You are a different concern. You question your place, your worthiness, you never claim more than you know. Your name is no longer Sryilla Tusfelt. Nor are you Hesralta. You will return to the tribe and declare yourself “Nayralea God-Chosen”. Come. Bathe.”

I had not come to do more than wash off the ceremonial paints. But when the moon calls, you do not hesitate. I let my robes slide off my shoulders and stepped into the waters, shivering at their chill. Luwana turned and held me, drawing me deeper. “Shed your ties, little mortal.”

I felt the pull. Somehow, I knew what to do, but I looked up to her, ashamed of the fear I felt. “Will I be alone forever? I hate this. Nobody wants to be near me. Everybody is afraid of me. I could choose anybody I wanted for a friend or a lover, but it would only be because the God-Chosen asked it. Can’t I ever just make friends?”

She stood in the water with me, her eyes searching me. “You would reject our gifts?”

I shook my head, mourning what I was about to lose, and took a breath to dive beneath the water. Her hand on my throat caught me. She did not strangle me, but her grip was so firm it might have been rooted in the bones of the earth itself. “I am not done with you. If our choice saddens you, why accept your fate?”

I looked into her silvery eyes, then down. Her eyes shone right through me, and looking into them was too intense for more than a moment’s gaze. “My people need guidance. I have a duty to them. I always have.”

She watched me, and I feared that my answer was not good enough for her. But her gaze softened, and she pulled me in hugging me close. “It will be okay. You won’t always be alone. Now, find your way.”

I nodded and dove into the water. I had stood in water a few feet deep a moment ago, but now I swam deeper into the darkness. My arms burned and my lungs began to ache, but I swam deeper; I knew if I turned back I wouldn’t find a surface behind me anymore. Finally, the waters lightened around me, and I broke a surface, gasping for breath. Anybody else would have changed their position in the world, swimming so far. Somehow I understood that every stroke had changed me, instead.

“Nayrlea!” Luwana was there, hugging me again. A naked man with bright, cold blue eyes watched from the shore.

“Luwana . . . I made it.” I slumped in her arms, muscles trembling. My eyes turned to the man watching from the shore. His eyes roamed me, and my face burned under his gaze.

“You made it. Let me introduce you to Al Kutb .”

I had to fight the urge to lower my head; the guide-star had come to see me Chosen. “I am honored.” My voice squeaked, and my face burned hotter.

Luwana raised her hands as if calling, and moonlight answered, weaving a thin robe around me. “Stop staring, Al Kutb. You’re embarrassing her.”

He looked at Luwana, and the way his eyes roamed her was clearly not innocent. “You know where my real interest lies. Looking at her is just appreciating good artistry.”

“Hush, Al-Kutb. Mortals are present. We must have some secrets, even from our Chosen. Come, we have a gift for you, Nayrlea.”

Luwana took my hand and led me to shore, where Al Kutb held up his hands, opening them to reveal a small white mouse. “This little one is soul-bound to you now, Nayrlea God-Chosen Tuwalt, ”

Luwana moved past me, irritated. “I thought we agreed on a cat!”

His glance at her was amused, his smile smug. “But she squeaks to like a mouse.”

“She’s beautiful.” I stood up straight, fighting the urge to bow before the gods. “She’s beautiful! I thank you, Al Kutb.”

Luwana seemed a little mollified, and Al Kutb seemed even more smug, if such a thing were possible. “You have the honor of naming her. Trust her. She will guide you as I guide the ships. She will teach you who your true friends are; and who truly loves you, too.”

I looked down at the mouse in my hands, who leaned up toward me. I lifted her higher, and my lips pulled into a smile as her tiny paw touched the tip of my nose.

Luwana’s voice came to me gently. “You are the spiritual leader of your tribe now, Nayrlea God-Chosen Tuwalt. We will guide your visions and the spill of any rune from your hand. Go in peace and honor.”

I looked up, and leaves were drifting through the air, crickets were chirping, my dress was mere cotton, and I was alone but for a mouse. “Wait! I’m not ready! I’m . . . I’m not special, I don’t know what to say!”

A squeak made me look down; the mouse was peering up at me, as if to ask what happened next. “I’m supposed to know what to say. Am I supposed to know your name? Perhaps ‘Whisfayn’. You are supposed to show me who is friend and who is foe, you are a gift from Al Kutb, and it means way-finder in the old tongue. Do you like it?”

The mouse sniffed at my palm, then began to climb my moonlight shift. I helped her to my shoulder, and I started on my way home. I looked at the pile of robes by the water, and decided to leave them behind – they belonged to a different girl.

I wondered what I would do, what I would say. Things began to seem very complicated. Somehow, as ordinary as I felt, I would have to declare myself truly God-Chosen, and declare my authority to supersede my mother’s.

I hoped my mother would not resent me. I hoped I would not have to declare her false. I hoped I would not be declared heretic. For a moment, I had convinced myself that with the support of the gods, everything would be okay. Now, I suspected it would not be so easy.


Nayrlea God-Chosen, formerly Hesralta God-Chosen, formerly Syrilla Tusfelt returned to her people, the first to have been presented as a successor to the gods, and accepted. She returned in moonlight that became her robe, accompanied by a star that became a mouse. Her mother had chosen her daughter, but chose well, for she was twice-chosen by powerful gods, by the moon and by the guidestar. Today, I go to the choosing. When I die, my writing of my predecessor will add a page to our written traditions, as having been the successor chosen for the gods to accept – or reject.

Also added to our traditions will be these writings of myself. I will not be accepted. I wear the paint and throw the runes, I return from the holy spring sane and whole. But I didn’t want this life, and the Gods have never spoken to me. My runes foretell only what chance decides to agree with later. They will see my heart, and know I am not devoted enough.

Yula wants this choosing badly; it was her mother’s, and Yula thinks she should have been named to succeed her. She said a harvest goddess once spoke to her, after all. After I am rejected, she will probably have it. I am glad that the time approaches to choose someone, though. Nayrlea God-Chosen has been ill, and to guide us takes much of her strength.

I leave this as a record for the Gods and Our descendants. May they remember Nayrlea God-Chosen, may they remember her named successor, and if I may be so bold, may they remember Yula. She is headstrong, but I love her.

My final words to those who would call us ‘ancestors’ are this: question yourself. Answers are within you, but if you do not know those halls, you will only get lost when you seek them. Question yourself, know yourself, and the answers will welcome you.

I am Nosamo the Successor, formerly Nosson Rilnr. I now go to be chosen. Or not.

Deadly Wish

Explore a character’s moral dilemma – either he gets a million dollars, and someone he doesn’t know dies, or someone else gets a million dollars, and he dies.

“A million dollars?”

“Yes.”

“Very well.  It’s mundane, so I’ll grant it.  But . . . let’s make it interesting.  I’ll also kill someone.”  The genie that had sprung from the antique lamp pointed out my window, and in the window across the way a woman was dusting; she looked like a cleaning lady.  “Her.  I’ll kill her.”

“What!?  No!  That is nowhere in the wish I made!  I didn’t ask for anything like that!”

To be fair, I had kind of been surprised when a human form billowed out of the lamp.  It was like a silly fairy tale.  But after I spent half an hour crawling around my kitchen counter as a cockroach, I was ready to believe.  It was either that, or risk some new torment.

“Who cares?  The terms of your wish are fulfilled.”

“No.  Take it back.  I don’t want it.”

The genie floated on a cloud of mist, ignoring me.  “Funds will be deposited in your account by six–”

I threw the lamp.  It passed through him, his form swirling like smoke before reforming. “I said take it back!”  I was screaming now.  I wasn’t a killer, dammit.  This wasn’t me!

“Well.  I might be convinced to refrain.  But you’ll have to entertain me, mortal.  Squirm on the hook a little.  Wriggle, worm.”

“What are you talking about!?  You can’t just kill people!”  I couldn’t hit him, I couldn’t stop him, I couldn’t do anything but shout.  Someone in a neighboring apartment thumped on the walls.

“Oh, I can.  And nobody will ever know.  Heart attacks are a dime a dozen.  Even the healthy could have one.  But like I said, I might refrain.  I’ll give her the money instead, and give the death to you.”

I froze.  “You can’t possibly . . . you can’t expect . . . ”

He rolled on his cloud of vapor, stomach-down now, folding his hands under his chin to watch me.  His hair was pure white, like cotton, and his form childlike.  His eyes on me, though, were those of an old man. “I expect you to squirm.  I expect you to decide.  I expect to feast on your struggle, manling.  Take the money, and you may as well have killed her yourself.”

I turned away, planting my hands on the cool tile of the countertop.  I’d never considered myself a great altruist.  I always wondered just how cold I was.  I didn’t donate to anything, didn’t have a great cause.  But could I just let someone die?  I shook my head.  I was looking at it wrong.  Someone would die.  Someone would certainly die.  The question wasn’t, ‘would I let someone die’, but ‘who would I choose’.  I looked out the window and felt my resolve harden.

I was an architect.  I made things, dozens of people were employed to support my work.  She was a cleaning lady.  I doubted she supported more than herself.  I stood up, looking out the window, my decision ready.  I heard the genie’s childish voice pipe up behind me. “Ooooooh, here it comes!”

I saw a second cleaner walk into view, carrying a trash bag.  She was younger, probably still in high school.  The older lady bent to her, and began wrapping some small hurt, then kissed her on the brow.  A daughter.  The girl laughed, pushing her mother away, too old to have boo-boo’s kissed better, but she laughed, she smiled.

I looked around my apartment.  The entertainment center, the Playstation with one controller plugged in, the single microwave dinner on the table, the empty beer can.  Part of me began to die inside, just then.  That part of me so assured of my worth, the part convinced that I was valuable to the world.  I turned back to the genie, whose blue eyes met mine.

With a heart that felt like a lead weight in my chest, I announced my decision.

Unarmored

Night Diner

This is the third story in what I call the ‘Soul’ series, based on artwork by Klegs.

Original

Artwork: Night Diner, by Klegs (DeviantArt)

“Man, that was great!” Sarah was excited, animated, all the things that set me on edge. But she wasn’t like most people. I knew that she needed to just talk. I was content to listen, and she didn’t take offense.

“It was just me! I mean, the bar was a hole in the wall, but I wasn’t just opening for someone, either. They wanted me! They even applauded!”

I just sipped from my drink, listening. I remembered my impressions as she spoke, building her words and my memories into a fuller picture. The bar was small, and the stage tiny. It smelled like stale beer. People drank and played pool. At first, there was disinterest, then a spark of curiosity as a new face took the stage. “How did they look at you while you played?”

“Man, it was crazy!” Her hands came out of her pockets to gesture. “Everybody was looking at me. It was awesome! It was terrifying! You got to tell me you got pictures of it all, you got pictures, right?”

I remembered that spark of curiosity in their faces kindling into something more, glasses stopping in the air as people paused to look. I already knew that the footage of that moment would go into my final edits. “I got pictures. And I got video.”

“Awesome! We’re getting this on YouTube tonight, right?” Her hands took my arm, but let go again, going back into her pockets against the chill. “Sorry. I’m crowding you. I’m just so excited!”

I smiled and glanced over at her. It was a small smile, but meaningful, and from her expression of relief, I think she knew it. “You’re a step ahead.  Most people just think I need to change.”

“Screw them. You’re you, without regrets.  Anybody tries to make you change, I’ll kick their ass for you.” She thumped her hand on the rail for emphasis, and I could hear the metal resonate like a bell.

I smiled again and felt my cheeks heat. Not many people could get through my shell, but it always unsettled me how quickly those close to me could raise my emotions. I wasn’t used to being emotional. “Yeah. So YouTube. I don’t want to put it up raw. You did really good. Give me some time. I can make something great with this.”

“Yes!” She hopped in place, then clapped her hands. “Thank you! You! Are! Awesome!” I felt my cheeks heat more.

“Just doing what I can do.”

“Doing it great! For me! Without me even asking! Come on, you’re great. People get paid for that stuff!”

I looked at her, not knowing how to respond. I was tempted just to put on the armor and shrug, but I couldn’t do that to my best friend. Instead, I turned and hugged her. It was brief and awkward, then I let her go and turned back away, and put the straw in my mouth so I wouldn’t have to say anything.

She watched me, then leaned back against the rail. I glanced over, and she was grinning like a madwoman. “Thanks.”

I knew she wasn’t talking about the video editing. “Sure . . . you’re welcome.”

Intimate Moments

When you make eye contact with someone who’s death is near, their life flashes before your eyes.

Original

I walked into the metal room, and the steel door swung shut behind me. The voice was raw, exhausted, accented, muffled beneath a black bag over his head.

“Who is there?”

In silence, I walked to the single chair as the door locked, and locked, and locked again. My shoes clicked on the floor as I circled him. His shirt was bloodied, torn. The bloodstains were pale pink, evidence that they had tried waterboarding, too.  His teeth and nails were unmarred, but if they’d had time to exhaust every avenue, they wouldn’t have called me. Continue reading “Intimate Moments”

Expression

This is the first story in what I call the ‘Soul’ series, based on artwork by Kleg.(DeviantArt)

Artwork: City Lights, by Kleg. (DeviantArt)

Original

I picked up speed down the gentle incline, leaning into the wind as the skateboard carried me faster and faster. At his hour there were few pedestrians out, and I slalomed back and forth, weaving past them. A shout, a curse, a whimpery gasp of fear as I whipped by pedestrians. I ignored them.

My hair streamed in the wind. The air tasted like freedom. And my mastery over the board under my feet, the hard-won affinity for this extension of my body, that tasted even better.

Then I was there. I pivoted my board and slid until I reached a full stop. I kicked the nose up and lifted it, slipped it through the cargo netting on my pack.  My other hand raised the camera from my hip, holding it before me.

I took a moment and absorbed my surroundings. Behind me, cars whizzed up and down the overpass.  The sun was setting, and I stood in the single place from which I could see the entire city.  From this angle, I could see fragments of the city beyond and around every high-rise and office building.

Headlights crawled up and down the roads, and the building lights shone, turning on and off.  There was not a single cloud, and the wind off the mountain had swept away the smog, leaving only a faint halo around each bright city light. I was not going to get a better shot.

Continue reading “Expression”

Ripped Off

You are an assassin. A little girl has just come up to you, handed you all her pocket money and asked you to kill her abusive relative.

Original

“Kid . . . how did you find me?”

She looked up at me, eyes wide and intent, never once lowering the fistful of bills. She wore a blue dress and sandals with Miss Piggy printed on them. A seashell hung on a thong around her neck. She had a black eye, and bruises on her neck and arms. On one shoulder I could read the shape of a belt buckle in the bruising. She couldn’t have been more than twelve.

“My dad has a book of names. Your name was circled AND underlined under ‘cleaner.’ ”

“You didn’t locate me with just a name.”

“Welllll . . . there was another name that said ‘finder.’ She was good at finding you.”

I put a hand over my face. Marigold would take an assignment from anybody. This kid would be dog meat when her dad got the bill. Continue reading “Ripped Off”

Grim Garden

How does the grim reaper react to the zombie apocalypse?

Original

I looked over the world with frustration and resignation.

I didn’t really look, of course.  I observed from every eye, heard through every ear.  Every insect and squirrel, even from the eyes of every human alive, I watched the world.  I tasted the soil from the roots of every tree and scented the water from the nares of every fish.  Secrets were not safe from me unless they were safe from life itself. Or . . . unlife.

Continue reading “Grim Garden”