This weekend was host to Veterans Day, which is a holiday near and dear to me as someone involved with a lot of service people. Friends, family, I know a lot of people serving, or who have served, so taking a nice weekend off to relax was the order of the day.
Nothing beats hanging out with like-minded people, for me, and also feeding everyone to death, so meals out and then a roast at home made for a very relaxing weekend, before getting back to work on Fickle today.
Without further ado, here is the latest rough work on the adventures of the grumpiest God of Post-apocalyptia.
‘Fickle’ Part 7
‘No good deed goes unpunished.’
This is a statement so universally true, no one knows exactly where it comes from, or who first said it. It’s probably the statement I would want to be engraved on my tombstone if I were ever to have such a thing.
So far, my story has proved this to be true in every incarnation. After daring to exist, I did one little favor for some overly zealous people, and it just snowballed into a series of requests and demands that left me exhausted by the time the Gulf of Mexico once again looked like the Gulf of Mexico. I was so tired, we walked home through the mists because my wings just couldn’t anymore.
Never have I been more pleased to see my little black rocky island. Everything from the black sand shore, to the muddy red river, and host of corpses decorating the hazards of my lair, filled me with a deep sense of peace and pleasure, so much so I almost felt like dancing.
Still, the fact people had continued to arrive while I was elsewhere did fill me with a degree of trepidation – my lair may have been raided in my absence, after all, and if even a single thing was out of place, I had every intention of decimating what was left of the population on the planet in retribution.
Thankfully, such was not necessary. We had left a sign stating I was on vacation on my doorstep, in eight major languages, and while it would be nice to think that had been enough to turn back those who got that far, the trio or corpses beyond it said otherwise.
“What… happened?” Gemma asked after we finally made it back inside and I started venting the place. Dead bodies do not smell good by a long stretch.
“When I’m not here, I’m not soaking up the latent charge in the air to work miracles for ungrateful swine. They broke in, and ate a discharge right in the face, by the looks of it.”
“Oh. Gross. That wasn’t what I meant though… what happened to the island?”
I turned to look at her with a frown. Nothing had seemed out of place to me when we got back. The eco-system I had constructed here was self-sustaining and functional, and while a couple of my critters had been killed by arriving acolytes, that wasn’t out of the ordinary. The trees still stood, the rocks were still razor sharp, my lair was just the same, if a little dusty and corpse-y, and I could still hear the surf gently lapping at the shore, far below.
“The Spire.” Gemma said, exasperated with me for some reason. “It’s not as… tall?… as it was before.”
At least I could understand her hesitation with choice of words. See, the Spire used to stretch all the way up into the sky when the Gods were still fighting down here. The more the chaos went on, the more Krakatoa pumped out a growing pillar of rock that just went up and up and up for what seemed like forever. This was the rock Spire that shattered and sent shock waves around the world when humanity decided enough was enough.
But the Spire didn’t pulverize itself or fall into the ocean, as anyone who has visited my island will tell you.
Instead, those parts which did not in themselves explode continued to hang in midair, over the island. Physics dictated they really shouldn’t do that, but Krakatau is the one place where the chaos lingers in an active manner, I suppose.
So far, the God of Light hasn’t re-established order here, or maybe the latent forces left in the wake of the war means he can’t yet. Either way, the Spire lives on, just above my lair, hanging in the sky in defiance of all probability.
Gemma had only lived with me a very short time, so I suppose it did come as a shock to her to find the rocks had drifted lower in our absence. To me, that was normal though. Every time I left to do something and came back, the Spire looked a bit different, the pieces all a bit lower. I always suspected I knew the truth of why, but there wasn’t a book on exactly how matters worked around my home, so I tried not to think about it, most days.
“It does that, don’t worry about it,” I shrugged. “Rocks aren’t really supposed to fly after all.”
“Don’t worry about it?! What if one of them just falls? We could be crushed!”
“They just float lower, it’s nothing to worry about. We’re perfectly safe.” Which I have always known to be true. Gemma remained unconvinced.
“That’s like saying one is safe from turtles because they only eat fish, but I’ve seen your snapping turtles take bits off people!”
“Would it help if I put some clouds up there so you can’t see the Spire?”
“No! Damn sakes, Fickle, I never knew the Spire moved! It’s too dangerous to live under that… we’ll have to move out.”
Now, I pride myself on rarely raising my voice. Usually when I’m angry, which I often am, or at least fed up, my tone changes. I tend to sound tired, or ominous, I’m told. I had certainly never shouted at Gemma before. But that day… that day, something about the conversation just… hit a nerve.
I am a god. Much as I may not believe in godly works or the intentions of my parents, I can’t deny the physicality of what I am and certain elements of my self that are constant. Power is one of those things, especially in my own home, after letting the energy there build up without me for over a month. My one, passionate, shouted word shook the entire island, setting off all the ravens to cawing and knocking several rather nice plates I had onto the floor, where they broke.
It also made Gemma cover her ears and cower against the wall, and I admit I felt a little bit sorry about that, as it wasn’t on purpose.
“This is my home,” I tried to explain, in a much more gentle voice. “This is where I belong, and I’m not leaving. If you want, I can send you anywhere in the world, make you a home, build you a sustainable garden so you’ll be happy. But I’m not leaving my island. I can’t.”
She gave a meek nod, and in all the arguments and ‘discussions’ we have had, where she can get quite pointed with that tongue of hers, nothing ever got under my scales quite so much as that silent nod. Somehow, one word had shaken the foundation of a relationship with another being I hadn’t really realized was even there. I had managed to scare my friend, and knowing I had started thinking of her as a ‘friend’ in such a short period was terrifying in its own right.
“Any wish you want Gemma. I promised. But… I hope you’ll really think about it first, ok?”
“Yeah… yeah. I will.”
She nodded and gave me a very weak smile, then went to the room she had claimed as her own.
After I tidied up the mess I had made, I too decided to just call it a night and slunk into my own rather large chamber. In the center, there was this large pillar I had built the entire lair around, a column of smooth rock shearing straight up the middle of the mountain and always warm to the touch. I was intensely glad for that warmth on my poor aching back and tried very very hard not to dream.
The Terrors of Fickle
It only took a day or two for Gemma to return to her normal sarcastic self, though she always avoided looking up on clear days. I started quietly bringing in enough cloud to cover the rocks that worried her so, even though she had said it wouldn’t help. In time, I think there were days she genuinely forgot the rocks were there, but maybe it was just because we were so busy.
The morning after my brief outburst, I just wanted to cheer her up, so I launched into the subject of my book hoard with her, even though I had been hoping to put it off until she forgot about it. It was another of those projects that just snowballed, taking up about two years of my life in the end.
See, books don’t do well without custodians to look after them. They need to be kept dry and stored in stacks or the like so they can both be accessed easily, and won’t be damaged when they are sitting around.
Wood is no good for shelving, because it attracts insects and fungi and mold over time, so we spent a good number of weeks reading books on masonry and metal work and preservation just to store and preserve the very books we had just read on the topic. That boggled even my mind for a while.
Then, after we knew how we wanted to make a library, there came the matter of where. And that led into a very long summer all its own, as we took the first global census since the Collapse, and went to find out where the biggest populations of people still were. That, of course, led to even more work when Gemma wanted to intervene on behalf on the local peoples who were having various troubles, and I wasn’t able to talk her out of all of them.
And during all this time, there were still the issues arriving on my doorstep each day in the form of cultists and acolytes from the world over wanting miracles.
It was chaos.
I spent half my time working my tail off to get people to leave me alone and give people their one wish, and the other half enduring the consequences of my actions. Somehow, there was a third half on top of this in terms of working with Gemma on her project, and getting both my ears bent in the process.
No one can nag quite like she can, and I long for a day I can just sleep all this off like a bad dream. She thinks it was all hilarious, of course, so perhaps I should document some of the highlights.
In Europe, the closure of the Mediterranean sea between Morocco and Spain meant the area was steadily evaporating. The shrinking inland sea was thus becoming saltier by the year, and the fish were dying, leaving great disease-causing drifts of dead matter along shorelines. After the fifth petition to solve problems in coastal areas that were really only happening because the sea was closed off from the rest of the world’s oceans, I caved in and did the work necessary to rejoin the Mediterranean with the rest of the world.
I thought that would stem how many people came from Europe to beg for my help, but instead, it opened a new wave of trade and piracy all along Europe’s coastlines and with Africa, so I ended up both adored for restoring the life to the area, while now dealing with humanities inability to get along with each other.
Spain had the audacity to complain that they had lost land in my efforts and I had disrupted a migration route certain herd animals had taken up since the Fall, so they were starving. I took a savage pleasure in promising the Malagan acolyte that Spain would bathe in a traditional Benidorm delicacy before the week was out… and then dropping a plague of snails on the place.
I never said when in Benidorm’s history the delicacy would come from, and I am fond of the Upper Paleolithic period for multiple reasons.
The snails themselves came from Thailand, where the apple snail population had boomed enough to give me the numbers I needed to really teach Spain a lesson about wasting my time. More fool me for not knowing apple snails were an invasive species and I ended up salvaging yet another eco-system by accident and garnering yet more adoring fans…
In India, the lack of people had led to a pleasing resurgence in the prevalence of elephants and tigers, along with other native wildlife. True, wild cattle became a massive issue after the destruction of most of humanity, but tigers like slow-moving cows, so it’d all been going pretty well without me getting involved, until the local tribes of people left all got back together and put their differences aside in the face of tusks and jaws happy to carry off children.
A request to separate man and beast gave me a pleasing excuse to wake up some old volcanoes around the place and split the land up a bit more sensibly. A river here, a flood of lava there, and moving a few animals to some new islands I added to the Andaman chain, so I would always have something to paint.
Unexpected consequence? The change in scenery pushed animals into previously resource starved areas, and winds moving past and over the new geology carried plants and nutrients further. Humanity started to bounce back at double the rate and decided I was a god of fertility and peace.
I wasn’t having any of that, so I was all too happy when someone arrived on my porch asking me to remove an entire rival cult from an area in Australia, giving me a perfect excuse to make myself a figure of pure terror and evil.
There used to be this shopping event called ‘Black Friday’, derived from a slang term about the final Friday of school term with an exam on it, but the term had a different history in Australia. Black Friday can also mean the fires of 1939 that claimed a lot of lives, and a lot of forest life, so I set my sights there. A huge fire to drive the unwanted tribe away from the area, show off the problem with asking a god for aid.
I was genuinely excited and really enjoyed the carnage. I tried to keep the burn relatively slow, keep the wind out of matters save a breeze to carry the embers as I needed, mostly so any animals could escape. I like animals, and this wasn’t their fault, so I didn’t go too hog wild but damn if I didn’t make a show of it.
Result? Rock paintings celebrating the return of fire to the area that allowed the dying Eucalyptus trees to actually seed for the first time in years, seeing as my parents had prevented the natural wildfires from happening by cooling the area with bloody ice flows off Antarctica!
With the ocean currents more ‘normal’ again since I fixed the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean, the problem was slowly fixing itself, but my fire actually made new, healthier forests! There’s a bloody song about me being sung down there now, and I dread to think what the mad lot will come up with next.
Then there was Egypt. I cleaned out the Suez canal on a request. It was an inevitable one, really, as that canal has been something humanity killed itself to establish over a fairly long period, all told.
Being able to move freely between two major oceans makes sense when the world is rebuilding itself on trade, so again I acted in the simple hope of stopping more requests. As usual, my good deed garnered more requests for support, but also indirectly resurrected the ancient Egyptian state. Well, after it unified, anyway.
The rise and fall of the Nile returned a lot more to its ancient habits, now that there were fewer cities and people and climate change affecting the natural way of the land, people returned to a much more ancient way of living. And they prospered, all the while thinking I had blessed them on purpose without ever knowing why or how I’d ‘fixed’ things, miles from their home.
Even a brief reign of terror over Cairo one week while Gemma was busy didn’t help, as the people took my destruction of the city and its old ruins as a blessing too! They used the rubble and steel of the old, barely inhabitable city to build a new one that actually functioned!
I got a bit angry after that. Gemma was bogged down in book work and I wasn’t up for more miracles, so I took myself off for a long weekend to just sleep off all the nonsense and be left alone.
I went north, looking for somewhere to cool off after a hot summer of work, and actually found somewhere relatively untouched by people. There weren’t any blasted out skyscrapers or overgrown roads, no neatly divided fields systems still in evidence under the encroaching touch of nature, no silos or comm towers or much of anything really, save one structure in the area I just moved far enough away from I couldn’t see it.
There were wolves and bears and deer and the like though, and a degree of warmth in the soil that wasn’t in the air. I should have been a bit more careful and curious about that, but I was tired and grumpy and just wanted to sleep in peace.
So I did, for three whole days, basking in the tingly pleasantness of this natural paradise people didn’t seem to come near. It was the best vacation I ever took, and I went back to my island actually feeling refreshed from whatever it was I had been soaking up all that time while also cooling off in the chill northern air.
And that’s how I cleaned up Chernobyl.
At my best recollection, I sent biblical floods into at least five areas in two years, unleashed six different plagues of everything from snails to bees, destroyed fifteen cities, caused eruptions in three major volcanic chains and seventeen earthquakes on top of the natural ones happening all the time… and ended up with more people prostrating themselves on my doorstep for doing so than if I’d personally taken them all enough food to eat for a year.
And I didn’t get a single painting done in the entire time! Life isn’t fair, and I’m not sure I condone it, honestly. Rocks and crystals seem to have a much more sedate time.
And then, one day, I came home from a particularly protracted job in China and found a book press in the living room. And even more trouble began.