Saturday Storytime: How High Your Gods Can Count

A lovely little creation story from Tegan Moore. Or not so lovely. Depends on your perspective, I suppose.

The visions have been walking among the temple ruins with us for months. They mingle with the tourists, climbing steps next to them in grotesque parallel. They squat and cringe where the human children run to catch up with their pink-shouldered parents.

Something big must be moving, to stir up so much. It makes us all uneasy.

A human boy has a bag of something salty and orange. The morsels fit my fingers perfectly, the shapes pleasantly dry, the crunch between my molars a unique delight. Around me are others, yearlings of my troop mostly, the bold ones. We scrap over the handfuls the boy throws. A big, nasty yearling plucks my crunchy bit straight from my cheek and eats it. I scream at him and he screams at me and we chase each other, fists raised. I would kill him for this, maybe, or at least pull his hair until he bled, if there was no promise of more crunchy things.

The human boy laughs. The bag is tilted as though it might spill. The boy eats a crunchy bit himself. The troop watches his hand move to his face.

A vision rises nearby. This would scatter the troop if there was no food to keep us fixed here, but we want more of what is in that bag.

It is a vision of the turkeys, when they flocked against us. Their eyes are wicked, dark beads. In this vision, they outrun one of our children. They swarm him. Their claws and beaks never seemed threatening when we kept them penned, but the gods have sharpened them with righteous ruination. The child’s screaming echoes through our memory.

The human boy takes another crispy bit from the bag and waves it. The nasty yearling steps forward. The boy puts the food in his mouth. The yearling grimaces.

The boy giggles. He takes again from the bag and coos.

The tension of then-horror and now-hunger tugs and tightens through my little band in the hot dust. Everything waits, pressed still by heat and fear.

The yearling leaps for his hand. Orange bits spill around the boy’s feet. I dart in, bodies all around me, scrambling for the fallen food. But the yearling wants the whole bag, and the boy is shouting and waving his arms. I almost get my hand stepped on in the struggle.

A vision-turkey struts into the troop, its face feathers bloody.

Someone else jumps on the boy’s back in the fray and grabs the bag from the other side. And then the vision-turkey turns and passes straight through another one of our troop. Her eyes go wide. She jumps up onto the boy’s other arm in fear, and the boy swings his elbow to dislodge her. She sinks in her claws and teeth to hold on, and then the other one on the boy also sinks in his claws and teeth, and the yearling wrestles the bag out of his hand and we all run away screaming and howling after the crunchy bits, leaving the turkeys and the human boy behind.

Through the ruined temple complex his sobs mix with the sobs of our vision-lost child. But we do not listen to these sorts of things if we do not have to.

In the beginning, the gods were alone and hungry in a still and empty world. There was no-one to pray, no-one to give sacrifice to them.

And so, in the first creation, the gods created the animals. But their voices were wrong so they could not sing the prayers, and their bodies were wrong so they could not make the sacrifices. The gods, who had built them with care and attention, who had given to them the glades and valleys and trees, took from them all privilege for this failure. They called them meat and cursed them, that which they had made so carefully.

In the second creation the gods made men, but they made them of mud. Their voices were hardly any better than the beasts’ and their bodies fell apart. This so angered the gods that they smashed the mud-men and drowned them in floods, though the mud-men would have fallen soon to dust anyway.

The third creation was men of wood. And though our voices were fine and ringing, and our bodies were sturdy and practical, and though we built homes and fires and had children and sowed seeds and spread across the land singing prayers and making sacrifices as best we could, there was still something wrong with us. There was something wrong with our hearts.

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Saturday Storytime: How High Your Gods Can Count